iUniverse and the publishing path of the novel A Perfect Blindness
So, while self-publishers won’t publish anything, they will publish a book for whatever purpose the author wants.
There are myriad reasons for publishing a book, from “sharing my story with family and friends”, and “expressing my deepest thoughts”, to “sharing information on a specialized topic”, or “enhancing my professional career”, or “writing for Fame” and “finding out if I have what it takes for commercial success” and even “writing a giveaway promotional book” or simply because a person “loves to write”. Only a couple of reasons for publishing a book imply a real intent to sell, versus the unspoken hope that a book might be so good, people will spontaneously offer to buy it, and …
For the books published for reasons that don’t specifically include competing in the market, yes indeed, the independent publisher makes all its money by getting paid up front for typesetting and printing, and possibly for editing and design services, and this is all the publisher expects to ever make from these books. Many of the books published for these reasons fit the definition of “vanity publishing” exactly.
Other writers though engage self-publishing companies with the intent of selling what they write, on the shelves shared with traditionally published books. Of course, not every book written with the goal of fame or landing on the bestsellers list is of high enough quality to sell more than a few copies to family and friends. An early contact at iUniverse wrote that the vast majority of the books they publish are not worthy of a bookstore shelf: only 5 percent of all their books even have that potential. Thus the number books of dubious quality along with the number that are published for reasons other than sales lead to the oft-quoted statistic that the average self-published book sells less than 500 copies. That number is gained simply by dividing the total number of books sold by the total number of titles in a given year, regardless of purpose or quality: an inaccurate picture of sales for high quality books written with the purpose to sell. Especially if the book has a large and reachable market.
So it is true that self-publishing companies will publish most anything, even if it’s poorly written, and yes, on these mediocre or low quality books as well as books that aren’t intended for sale, these companies do indeed make all their money from type-setting, formatting and design fees, as well as whatever additional services an author might purchase, such as editing and marketing help.
Confounding matters for self-publishing, these same additional services, which can help a book reach it’s potential as they did for A Perfect Blindness have added to lawsuits from authors whose books, in spite of all the extra money spent on editing, designing and marketing, didn’t sell as the author expected. Some of these suits have gotten press, which perpetuates the image that self-publishing companies are little more than a scam that preys on vulnerable authors’ dreams, rather than providing a new way for serious writers to get their books to market. It’s important to remember though that the class action lawsuit claiming Author Solutions, iUniverse’s parent, is a fraud was dismissed in 2015 in part because so many authors return to the company to publish more books.
Finally and most importantly: self-publishers make money by selling books too, and they know good books do actually sell.